Grace For The Journey
One of the things we have noted during this series is how many times an encounter with Christ takes place over a meal. There are so many that one could do a series entitled, “Dining with Jesus” or “Meals with Christ.” That is the case this today. We will be looking at a passage here in Luke 7:36-50 where Luke describes a dinner event. Jesus dines with someone nobody expected. An anonymous woman with a notorious reputation.
At a funeral several months ago I was approached after the graveyard service by one of the granddaughters of the family. She said that she was offended by comments he had made during my funeral message. Specifically, the woman was offended my remarks that, “all are sinners and we cannot save ourselves.” This young woman was offended because she did not see herself as a sinner. That is the second time that I have had someone respond that way after one of my sermons. In today’s climate I am less surprised that someone would be offended that they themselves were included in a clear teaching of Scripture, such as Romans 3:23, “All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.”
What a contrast to the woman in today’s study. If there is one woman who readily acknowledges her sinfulness and unworthiness it is the unnamed woman in this story. There is no question but that she is a sinner. She knows it to be true and everyone present at that dinner knew it to be true, as well.
Let’s go through this passage, verse-by-verse, and take a look at the three key persons in the text. I have a simple descriptive outline to provide a sense of movement through the passage. Then after we have studied the meaning of the passage, I will share a few points of application about which to think more deeply today and in the weeks ahead.
I. A Conspicuous Sinner – Verses 36-38.
Verse 36 says, “Then one of the Pharisees asked Him to eat with him. And He went to the Pharisee’s house, and sat down to eat.” I have noted before that dinner invitations in Bible times were an opportunity to really get to know someone. It was not a rushed time, a hurried time, but rather an evening to share and listen and learn.
One of the Pharisees had invited Jesus to dinner. Maybe he wanted to know more about Jesus or thought that by having Jesus over he might sort of “score some points” with this popular prophet. Luke does not tell us the man’s motivation, so we do not really know. In any case, something happened that is a bit of a surprise.
Someone joins them while they are dining. And it is not just anyone. Luke tells us in verse 37, “And behold, a woman in the city who was a sinner, joined them.” On the one hand, it was not that unusual to have someone enter into the dining area. In our day, it would be really strange because we eat in houses with doors shut and even locked. And nobody just walks into a modern 21st Century house uninvited and sits at the table, unless you want to get shot! But in the ancient near eastern context, meals were shared in an open area of a home, open to the outside, where passersby could actually see who was eating and even kind of “hang out” near where the folks were eating, even listening to conversation. It was a more communal experience even for uninvited guests.
And folks did not sit around a modern western table with chairs, but rather they reclined in something of a circle, leaning on one arm and eating with the other hand. It was so different! It is still that way today as many of you know who have traveled to Mediterranean areas.
So . . . There is this woman who walks in. She is, verse 37 tells us, “a woman in the city who was a sinner.” In other words, she had a reputation. And it was not a good one. Everything about the context suggests that this woman was a prostitute – or at least had been a prostitute – until sometime recently. Look at what happens as we continue in verses 37 and 38, “When she knew that Jesus sat at the table in the Pharisee’s house, brought an alabaster flask of fragrant oil, and stood at His feet behind Him weeping; and she began to wash His feet with her tears, and wiped them with the hair of her head; and she kissed His feet and anointed them with the fragrant oil.”
We will note in a moment that when the Pharisee sees this happening in his own home he is beside himself in shock. He says, in verse 40, “If this man were a prophet he would know who this woman is, and what kind of woman this is, she is a sinner!”
This sinful woman has made her presence known. She is conspicuous in every way. She stands behind Jesus. She opens this alabaster flask of oil. Probably a small flask worn around the neck. It contained perfume. It was costly perfume. She would have used this perfume in her profession. And she now opens the flask to anoint His feet, but while she is planning on doing this, she begins to sob – and the sense is not just a whimpering cry, but a deep, heartfelt sobbing. This woman is just weeping and sobbing. She likely wasn’t expecting to cry so much and, not having a towel, washes Jesus’ feet with her tears, wiping them with the hair of her head.
To describe her as conspicuous is quite an understatement because her every action would have drawn further attention and glaring stares and shock to guests in the room, especially the Pharisee. In the Talmud, which is a Jewish commentary, it is stated that for a woman to let down her hair in the presence of men was a major no-no. In fact, if the woman were married, this action of letting down her hair was grounds for divorce. It was a shameful action.
By the way, this incident is different from another story we read in the Gospels. You may remember Mary who anointed Jesus for His burial. That is a different situation that took place in Bethany by the sister of Martha and Lazarus. This incident occurs in Galilee and the woman is not Mary, but this unnamed, but not unknown “lady of the evening,” a prostitute – a conspicuous, a very conspicuous sinner.
We look secondly at the Pharisee who had a . . .
II. A Critical Spirit – Verses 39-40.
Verse 39 says, “Now when the Pharisee who had invited Him saw this, he spoke to himself, saying, ‘This Man, if He were a prophet, would know who and what manner of woman this is who is touching Him, for she is a sinner.’”
He is just shocked that this woman is even touching Jesus and that Jesus allows it! We learn the Pharisee’s name in verse 40, “And Jesus answered and said to him, ‘Simon, I have something to say to you.’” Then Jesus proceeds to tell a parable that illustrates the depth of sin and the wideness in God’s mercy to forgive. That is what Jesus does in the following verses.
Before we look at that parable, let you spirit sense and feel Simon the Pharisee’s critical spirit. The Pharisees were a religious group of folks in Jesus’ day who were very powerful and very influential. The Jewish historian Josephus tells us that there were as many as 6,000 of these Pharisees during the time of Jesus. These Pharisees were not only powerful and influential, they had a tendency to be critical and judgmental. And the reason for this tendency was because they had such a high estimation of themselves as the morally upright upper crust. The very word “Pharisee” means, “separated one.” These folks separated themselves from the common folks and common ways and were therefore thought of as highly moral and superior in righteousness given their strict adherence to tradition and law.
There was a tendency on the part of the Pharisee to become judgmental, to look down one’s nose upon the sinful actions of
That bring us the final person . . .
III. A Compassionate Savior – Verses 41-50.
Jesus tells this parable to illustrate His compassion for those who know the depth of their sin and their need for God’s forgiveness. Jesus says in verse 41, “There was a certain creditor who had two debtors. One owed five hundred denarii, and the other fifty.” The amount of money this man charges these individuals is significant – One owes the equivalent of 2 years’ wages. The other owes the equivalent of two months’ wages. The problem is that neither one could pay down the debt, or pay off the debt. If you did not pay off your debt in those days you could be thrown into debtor’s prison. Both men are in the same boat. Verses 42 and 43 declare, “And when they had nothing with which to repay, he freely forgave them both. Tell Me, therefore, which of them will love him more?” Simon answered and said, I suppose the one whom he forgave more.”
And He said to him, ‘You have rightly judged.’”
The person who knows his debt to be so great and sees no way out of the situation is likely to be more grateful than the one who sees his debt as not as great as the other’s. Therefore, he may wrongly conclude that he is not in as great a need as the other. Consequently, when his debt is forgiven, he is not as likely to love in the same way the other loves.
Jesus continues in verse 44, “Then He turned to the woman and said to Simon, “Do you see this woman? I entered your house; you gave Me no water for My feet, but she has washed My feet with her tears and wiped them with the hair of her head. Washing a visitor’s feet was a common near eastern practice. If you wear open-toed sandals everywhere your feet will get dirty and dusty. You washed the feet of your dinner guests before they reclined for meal. Simon had not done so. He treated Jesus just like some common person.
Jesus continues in verses 45 and 46, “You gave Me no kiss but this woman has not ceased to kiss My feet since the time I came in. You did not anoint My head with oil, but this woman has anointed My feet with fragrant oil.” It seems that Simon reasoned the way many professing Christians reason: “Is not it enough that I invited you here?” Is not it enough that Jesus is here in my house? Isn’t it enough I have come to church today?
Jesus continues in verse 47, “Therefore I say to you, her sins, which are many, are forgiven, for she loved much. But to whom little is forgiven, the same loves little.” Now the very last verse, verse 50, tells us that this woman had faith in Jesus and that it was on the basis of her faith in Christ that she is saved. She had at some point already placed her faith in Christ. She believed in Him, trusted in Him. Verse 50 says, “Then He said to the woman, ‘Your faith has saved you. Go in peace.’”
That is important to know because
Jesus is teaching that the one
Who is truly saved will have
A love that flows out of
Them in gratitude to God.
That is what Jesus means when He says in verse 47 that, “she loved much.” She has been forgiven of her sin and she, as a result, she loves much.
Jesus reassures the woman that her faith has saved her and her sins have been forgiven. That is the point of verses 48 to 50, “Then He said to her, ‘Your sins are forgiven.’ 49 And those who sat at the table with Him began to say to themselves, ‘Who is this who even forgives sins?’ Then He said to the woman, ‘Your faith has saved you. Go in peace.’” This woman is sobbing all over Jesus and Jesus is like, “It is true. It is really true. Your sins have been forgiven. All of them. You may go in peace.”
Here is what is so important for us to know and so important for us to consider today . . .
There is a difference between religious faith
And saving faith in Jesus Christ.
There is a difference between
Morality and the Gospel.
There is a difference between
Those who say they are
Religious and morally upright
And those who genuinely
Know true salvation.
If you are truly saved. If you have had a real, saving encounter with Jesus Christ then you will identify more with the prostitute than the religious man.
If you have had a real, saving encounter with Christ, then you will have three things . . .
A Real, Saving Encounter With Christ Produces . . .
And I ask you to consider these three things with me this morning. number one:
1) Genuine Humility Before God.
And by humility before God, I have in mind namely that you will know the depth of your sin and will surrender to Christ alone. Unlike the woman I mentioned in the introduction of our study – the one at the funeral who did not think she was a sinner – unlike her, you and I will know the depth of our sin. We will identify with this so-called, “Sinful woman.” We are sinful, too.
Simon is detached, cold, and unaffected. Simon wants Jesus there, but keeps Him at arm’s length. He invited Jesus over for an academic experience, a sort of religious seminar. The woman knows sin. She gives up control. She surrenders. She knows she needs forgiveness. She cries over her sin. Martin Luther calls her tears, “Heart water.”
It is a reasonable question to ask of ourselves this morning: “When was the last time you shed a tear for your sin?” It is only when you and I know the depth of our own sin that we are in a position to appreciate the wideness and depth of God’s mercy. John Owen said, “He that hath slight thoughts of sin, never had great thoughts of God.” Geoff Thomas puts it another way, “If you figure that you are a ‘little sinner’ then all you need is a ‘little Savior.’ If you think you are a ‘moderate sinner’ then what you will need is a ‘moderate Savior.’ But if you are a ‘big sinner’ you will need a ‘big Savior.’ Those who have a little Savior will love him little, while those who have a big Savior will love him greatly.” Most of the time, I feel more like the prostitute than the Pharisee. I need a big Savior. I need the Gospel.
The Gospel is not something you add to your life
The way you add an exercise routine
Or a diet plan or take vitamins.
The Gospel is not true
Because it works;
It works because it is true.
The problem is never with the Gospel, the problem lies in our failure to really understand and appreciate the Gospel – because our failure to really understand and appreciate the Gospel is based upon a failure to really understand and appreciate the depth of sin and the wideness of God’s mercy. This woman got it; the religious Pharisee did not.
2) A real, saving encounter with Christ produces . . .
Genuine Love And Gratitude To Christ.
This point is tied to the first point. Genuine humility leads to genuine love and gratitude to Christ. The Pharisee does not really see himself as much of a sinner, does he? He is morally upright. He keeps the law. He certainly does not live like this prostitute! He really does not regard himself as much of a sinner. How then does he treat Christ as a result? The Pharisee slighted Christ. Treated Him as just some ordinary guest. Just some common person. Does not give Him a proper greeting, doesn’t wash His feet, just treats Him as an ordinary person.
The woman, however, she regards herself as a sinner. She knows the depth of her sin. How does she treat Christ? She loves Him. She has endless love for Christ and endless gratitude to Christ.
If you know you have been forgiven much, you will love much. If you know the depth of your sin, you will love Jesus greatly. You will never get over the depths and wideness of God’s mercy in His forgiveness of you.
This is the whole point of Jesus’s parable. Here is a lender who lends money to two people and then finds himself in a position where neither can repay so must absorb the debt himself. The lender absorbs the debt. Someone has to pay. The debt is never truly cancelled, it is transferred to another. The payment of the two debtors is absorbed, or paid for, by the money lender.
Jesus equates Himself with the lender. The debt of the woman – and the debt of the Pharisee – is absorbed by or transferred over to Jesus; we may biblically say, imputed to Jesus. He pays the debt. The lender pays the debt of others. It cost Him for these two folks to be forgiven.
They were both in debt and the point is that neither could repay. If you are a little in debt and a lot in debt, but the consequences are the same then it really does not matter if you are a little in debt or a lot in debt; the same way we may think of two different people as dead. One merely stopped breathing and the other was brutally murdered. Neither is more dead than the other. They are both dead. One just looks more presentable at death that is all.
That is what the self-righteous Pharisee failed to see – and that may well be what many of us fail to see.
It really doesn’t matter whether you are
“A little sinner” or “a big time sinner.”
You are a sinner.
You are separated from God.
And just like two dead people,
No one more dead than the other.
Both are in the same condition.
Imagine you are on an airplane that will explode in the air. If the airplane is going to explode and disintegrate, it really does not matter whether you are seated in first class or in coach.
Self-righteousness, judgmentalism, a critical spirit, these things are gone when we realize that before God we are all sinners equally in need of a Savior. You will not look down your nose at someone who is struggling this week when you remember that you are just as they – a sinner. It does not matter whether that person is a prostitute, a drug addict, a criminal, or a so-called “Low life,” you are a sinner, too.
The Pharisee was worried about getting a seat in first class. But he is in the same predicament as the sinful woman seated near the restroom in coach.
When you know the depth of your sin, you are more likely to love Christ and be every grateful to Him for His forgiveness. When this woman breaks open her alabaster (fine-grained stone) flask (small container of perfume), she is saying in essence, “You are more important to me than all of this ointment. You are more important to me than all the reasons I used this before.”
You may not be a prostitute, but what is the flask you carry around your neck? What is it you love more than Jesus? What is it you wish to control, or what is it that you believe adds greater value to your life? Doesn’t Jesus really own everything anyway? You feel proud of your own stuff, you earned it. But did you cause your birth? Did you cause yourself to have certain talents or abilities?
God comes to forgive a debt we owe Him. What do you owe God? What if God gave you a bill each month for everything you have – Every sin you committed? Every failure? What if God billed you for every sin? That is the way religion works.
People have the wrong view that they can
Pay down or pay off their own sin debt.
Giving money to poor people. Donating to charity. Being kind to others. Some people believe this is the way to pay our sin debts. It is just religion.
Think of it really: what if God billed you for every single sin? In some sense, that is what the day of Judgment is like. God says, “Okay, I’m calling your loan. It is time to pay your debts. You can pay in hell which is just since you owe me and cannot pay me. I will send you to the debtor’s prison of hell. Or, if you have had your debt paid for by my Son then you can enter into heaven.” Jesus paid it all.
There is one final thing here. A real, saving encounter with Christ produces . . .
3) Genuine Love And Forgiveness For Others.
When you have experienced God’s forgiveness and the depth of His mercy, and you identify with the sinful woman, then you are in a better position to understand and forgive others when they hurt you – your co-worker, your wife, your husband, or your children.
Our ability to love people and to forgive people and to be gracious towards people and compassionate towards people – all of these and more – our ability to love others and to love life is really dependent upon a right understanding of the Gospel and an ability to understand the depth of our own sin and the forgiveness God has given us.
If you’re angry all the time, mad at the world, mad at others, never satisfied with who you are and where you are and what you are doing, it may well be because you really do not know the Gospel. It may well be that you do not really know the depth of your sin and the wideness of God’s mercy to forgive you your sin.
John Newton, writer of “Amazing Grace,” was once a notorious sinner, a slave dealer, but he was gloriously converted and became a preacher. He never got over the depth of his sin and the wideness of God’s mercy to forgive. He lived to the age of 82. Not too long before he died Newton made this statement: “My memory is nearly gone, but I remember two things: that I am a great sinner . . . and that Christ is a great Savior!”
This is Grace for your Journey …
Rest and Rejoice in this eternal truth!
Ephesians 4:7 – “But to each one of us grace has been given as Christ apportioned it.”
Hebrews 4:16 – “Let us then approach the throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need.”